Mental health tips to cope with anti-Asian racism

The increase in anti-Asian hate and violence has taken a weary toll on mental health. Here are some ways to cope and protect our community.

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Anti-Asian racism is taking its toll on our mental health

The news of the tragic Atlanta shooting shook the Asian community to its core. Together, we mourned for the victims, whose faces resembled our mothers, sisters, and ourselves. We grappled with the reality that we have a target behind our back based on the way we look.

As COVID-19 infiltrated our lives, xenophobia and anti-Asian hate spread like a wildfire, stoked by fear of the virus and the biased rhetoric from politicians and media. Racism has escalated and manifested itself in senseless acts of violence against Asian elders and other vulnerable groups. In Canada, 60% of cases were reported by women, and children and older adults were more likely to be physically assaulted. 

Our personal safety and livelihood are being threatened. We fear not only for ourselves, but especially those we love.

Mental health impacts of racism

The continuous exposure to racial discrimination and mistreatment, whether directly or vicariously through media, can lead to trauma. Racial trauma, or race-based traumatic stress, elicit symptoms similar to post-traumatic disorders, such as chronic stress and depression. The repeated encounters of racist abuse can cause deleterious and long-lasting mental health impacts.

A recent study shows that over the course of the pandemic, Asians have experienced higher levels of mental disorders than the white population due to COVID-19 related discrimination. The racial-related stress is compounded by the effects of the pandemic and existing cultural stigma. Previous to the pandemic, the AAPI community was less likely to seek mental health services than any other racial group, and about three times less than their white counterparts.

Mental Health Infographic for AAPI minority
Photo credit: Mental Health America

What will be the last straw? The mental health of our community is in dire straits. We must acknowledge these issues and urge those who need help to seek it.

During this time of heightened fear and anxiety, we have gathered some tips to help you cope with the overwhelming emotions and to look after your well-being.

How to take care of your mental health

Process and Connect

Acknowledge and validate your feelings

Recognize that racism exists and that your feelings are valid. Share your feelings with people you trust, who will help you process in a healthy manner and release the negative, toxic emotions.

Find your community

Connect with like-minded individuals, who share your values and are equipped to have racially-conscious conversations. Identify a network of people you can lean on, in order to create a safe space for healing. Good friends and allies will listen without judgement and honour your experience.

Sharing experiences of racism is also linked to better health outcomes. In the book, Healing Racial Trauma, Sheila Wise Rowe speaks about processing your feelings and connecting with your community as effective ways to develop resilience.

Role-play scenarios

Identify potential scenarios that may arise and walk through how you might respond to the situation. Being mentally prepared helps alleviate anxiety and uncertainty.

Practice self-care

Take care of your basic needs

Make sure you are getting enough sleep, exercise and nourishment.

Do what brings you joy or calmness

Take up a new hobby, go for a walk, engage in nature, or try a mindfulness practice — whatever it is that will provide you with a much-needed mental break and an opportunity to refuel.

Take a break from social media

News and images depicting anti-Asian racism can be upsetting and triggering. Set concrete boundaries and be mindful of your media intake. Try turning off notifications (you can always turn them back on!) or limit the amount of time spent on your electronic devices and apps.

Take action

Embrace your culture

Find strength and comfort by deepening your connection to your ethnic community. Here are some ways to embrace your culture and identity:

  • Read books by Asian authors.
  • Educate yourself about Asian American history or your own family history.
  • Cook up some simple, delicious meals to share with your family.
  • Connect with your ethnic community by volunteering with a local organization or reaching out to groups to offer support.

Engage in meaningful action

Turning your emotions into action can bring about a sense of empowerment.

  • Call out racism and report hate incidents at Stop AAPI Hate or Elimin8Hate.
  • Be a good bystander by using the Hollaback 5D’s.
  • Offer support to your community by giving your time or resources.
  • Raise awareness and share information on anti-Asian racism with your networks.

Get professional help

If you are struggling to cope, we encourage you to speak to a professional. Asian Mental Health Collective has an Asian Canadian Therapist Directory that will connect you with culturally competent professionals.

No more silence

Even if we have not personally experienced overt racism, we have all witnessed or faced some form of discrimination at some point in our lives, during and prior to the pandemic. Seeing and hearing about the hate incidents can uncover deep emotional scars around our identity and sense of belonging in the place we call home.

While social media has enabled the proliferation of hate, it has proven to be an effective vehicle for bringing more individuals together — to commiserate, to cope, and to organize against the “collective abuse” they are experiencing by the system and society. The development of such a collective identity has been found to lower overall anger and anxiety in the respective community, as well as increase long-term activism.

Our journey of healing is not meant to be done in solitude, even if it can feel extremely lonely at times. We need to draw on the power of community, as we heal individually and collectively, so our suffering can be transformed into positive action.

As we stand together, we will stay silent no more about the hate against Asians and other BIPOCs. We will stay silent no more, about the mental health struggles within our community. Let’s take care of ourselves and each other, so we can continue the fight for justice for all our AAPI and BIPOC brothers and sisters, and our grandpas and grandmas.

See also: Mental health support for the Asian Canadian community and beyond

Featured photo credit: Charlotte May via Pexels


References:

  • Coping with racial trauma: https://psychology.uga.edu/coping-racial-trauma
  • We must unmute: https://www.apa.org/news/events/my-brothers-keeper
  • Racial trauma: https://www.mhanational.org/racial-trauma
  • Racism and Mental Health: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/ptsd-trauma/racism-and-mental-health.htm

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